History, Culture, & Critique
Winter Semester, 2015
Mondays and Wednesdays, 11:30AM – 1PM
Location: 1202 SEB
Instructor: Benjamin Brose
Office: #6151 at 202 S. Thayer
Office hour: Wednesdays, 3:30–4:40PM
GSIs: Riley Roche (firstname.lastname@example.org) & Eric Haynie (email@example.com)
A separate transmission outside the scriptures.
Not reliant on words and letters;
Pointing directly to the human mind.
See your nature and become a Buddha!
The term “Zen” has entered the American lexicon as a sort of synonym for words like “relaxing,” “peaceful,” “healthy,” and “focused.” We now have Zen breakfast cereals, Zen pipe cleaners, Zen singles services, and all manner of books beginning “Zen and the art of…” But what is Zen? Where did it come from? What does it teach? What does it mean to be a Zen Buddhist? In this course we will look at the Zen tradition from a variety of perspectives. We will begin by familiarizing ourselves with some of the most common features of the tradition: dharma transmission, the lives of eminent monks, meditation, and koans—especially as these things are represented from within the tradition itself. From this foundation we will take a more critical look at the historical and philosophical development of Zen as it spread throughout East Asia. Taking broader cultural contexts into account, we will re-examine some of the previous themes in light of recent scholarship on Zen. This course will also introduce students to the various forms Zen has taken in the ancient and modern world—from Zen mendicants, to Zen mummies, to Zen militants. Along the way, we will glimpse some of the traditional and modern manifestations of Zen in East Asia and the West and will have the opportunity sample some of the key texts, teachings, and critiques of both Zen masters and contemporary Zen scholars.
This course is not intended as a comprehensive overview of the history and teachings of the Zen tradition but rather as thematic sampling of key aspects of the tradition. While meditation is a central part of Zen practice, we will not be engaging in meditation or other forms of ritual practice in this class. Instead, we will be thinking about the intellectual and cultural underpinnings of central Zen doctrines and practices. Our primary goal will be to understand the various philosophical and historical manifestations of Zen Buddhism and to critically assess how those contexts have influenced popular and scholarly understandings of this complex tradition.
Although not required, students with some background knowledge of Buddhist and/or Asian cultures will be well-positioned to excel in this course.
Attendance in discussion sections is required.
Papers: One mid-term essay (4 pages) and one longer final essay (8 pages). These essays provide an opportunity to actively engage with course materials and issues in a thoughtful and focused way. Essay topics will be announced two-weeks prior to their due date.
Questions: At the end of each lecture, you will be asked to write a brief question or comment on an index card. Please be sure to bring your own card and to write your name and section time on the card.
Zen is about mono-tasking. To honor this ancient tradition, during class, please keep iphones, laptops, and other apparati off and out of sight. If you have a special need to use a laptop to take notes in class, please come and speak with me.
As basic guidelines, work in the A range demonstrates a sound and thorough engagement with the materials and issues of the course, and a secure grasp of their key points, shown through articulate, thoughtful, nuanced and cogent expression. Work at the higher end of this range could serve as a model for other students in the course. Work in the B range demonstrates a generally good grasp of the key points and issues, expressed in a reasonably secure and thoughtful manner. Work